Imagine if every time you past an outdoor newsstand it was filled with a carefully curated selection of the most beautiful and inspiring magazines around. This is a reality for Amsterdammers strolling past Athenaeum bookstore in the Spui market square of Amsterdam’s city center, where all types of magazines flow out onto the street in neatly arranged stacks. For this week’s installment of Source we speak with the head of independents, Marc Robbemond.
When and why did you set up Athenaeum?
Athenaeum Nieuwscentrum opened in 1969 as the newsstand of the independent bookstore Athenaeum. We sold newspapers, magazines and self published periodicals and pamphlets from the beginning. The store has a history in independent publishing, the provo, punk and anarchist movements in the city brought their publications to the store. There was a studio for radio shows and a telephone so journalists could call the newspapers about the latest developments.
How do you lay out the magazines around the shop and how did you decide on that set up?
It’s a small shop, we have little space but a large stock. Therefore a third of our stock is outside on piles and in racks.
The idea is to display magazines like vegetables at the greengrocer. It works perfectly in the summer when the weather is nice, but in the winter when there’s a snowstorm over the shop, it’s really a different story. Magazines are not so good with water. We’re always busy rearranging the piles. New magazines come in all day and we have to find the right spot for them and this means moving things around. It’s fun, and gives the shop a certain dynamic as it looks different every day.
Who are your customers?
Regular customers who pick up international and Dutch newspapers, magazine addicts, designers, artists, students, writers, journalists and a lot of fashion people.
What’s your best-seller this month?
C-Heads and Fool are doing well. Of course The Escapist from Monocle is a success. There’s this beautiful, smaller title from Manchester, Nous Magazine, their new issue gets picked up a lot, very nice to see.
As a retailer you see on one side the enthusiasm and love magazine makers put into their print and then in the store you see the customers who cherish these new independent titles. That’s a lot of fun.
Do you have a favourite local magazine?
MacGuffin is a nice new title from Amsterdam focusing on just one object each issue, I’m really curious about the next issues and how it will develop. Subbacultcha is a free music and art magazine that should have a price, it’s very good. And I really like Works That Work from Leiden, a smart magazine full of ideas.
What has the biggest challenge been?
Finding a place in the shop for this amount of magazines and choosing titles for the shop that are interesting but will also find their audience.
What changes have you seen in the magazines since you opened?
The wave of independent magazines has been very present in Athenaeum since seven or eight years, and you see some titles disappearing and new titles all the time. I think the makers are trying to find a way to make their magazines sustainable, so that they will be around in the coming years.
For the international import of independent magazines, I work closely together with my colleague Anneke Reijnders and we are in contact with editors who we order directly from. When you speak with them, you see that it’s hard work to publish independently and editors put a lot in getting a new issue out. I admire that.
Take a panoramic tour of the shop
Photographs by Petra Noordkamp